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Gardening with Gael - Garlic goes from menu to medicine

garlic-bulb(copy)Traditionally garlic is planted on the shortest day and harvested on the longest. Box grew some last year and this year I decided to have a go. The terrace above Ann’s garden is the perfect size.

Garlic or allium sativum belongs to the same family as onions, chives, leeks and shallots. Although it has been used both as medicine and as a food for thousands of years (mentioned by Hippocrates among others) it was widely used in Mediterranean and Asiatic countries long before it was commonly used in England which probably explains the lack of it in the diets of my generation. My mother certainly never used it. Subsequently its use has become widespread – I probably use some in meals every day.

Not only does garlic enhance flavours but it also has extensive medicinal properties. Jess, who works here at the cottages swears that chewing a raw clove of garlic at the first sign of a cold or sore throat successfully wards off those bugs. I have tried it and it worked but since then I have decided on flu injections so I never have to do it again.

Garlic requires a sunny well drained position in soil with high organic material. My terrace has had years of buried possums. The first year the ground was pale hard clay. I threw gypsum all over it and then, using a tongan spear Box got from his friend Brownie, he broke up the soil and planted the first couple of dozen possums. After a couple of years of me throwing weeds and lawn clippings on top Box revisited with another lot of possums. Organic material, I think I have a good base.

I had eaten all the fat garlic cloves I had intended to save to plant. Fortunately Naja has a good stock of NZ grown garlic ready to be planted. It is preferable to use the largest cloves to encourage large bulbs at the end of the season.

I began to dig over my terrace. The humus and the possums were well rotted down including the bones. I only came across one or two. The soil had become a rich dark brown. In the Sunday Star Times ‘Sunday’ supplement last week, Lynda Hallinan recommended adding wilted comfrey, any animal manure at all, blood and bone, fish guts, seaweed and peastraw.

The outside of the packets suggested planting any time between April and August for those who are worried they have missed the shortest day, and each clove to be about 5cm deep and 5 – 6 cm apart. The large packet I bought was sufficient for half the bed. I will leave it a couple of weeks and then plant the other half.

In the meantime I have donkey poo to collect and after the next easterly I will be off to Langs Beach to collect some seaweed. I did point out to Box some of the deficiencies with his crop and the remedies I will be using. I hope he still lends me the truck to collect the seaweed.

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